April 20, 2015 – Washington, DC
Maine has started to build a partnership with Alaska on Arctic issues, and will host an Arctic Council Senior Arctic Officials meeting in October 2016, the first U.S. meeting outside Alaska. To find out more about what the partnership involves, the North Star Group visited with Chris Rauscher, Sen. Angus King’s (I-ME) advisor on Arctic policy, on April 20.
Maine is the “second closest state to the Arctic,” he said. Because of changed conditions in the shipping lanes, the Icelandic shipping company, Eimskip, recently moved its U.S. office from Norfolk, Virginia, to Portland, Maine, with the expectation of shorter travel times between North America and Europe. Portland could become a port of entry and place of exit for the Northwest Passage and Alaska, he said.
Rauscher said Sen. King and Maine Gov. Paul LePage don’t agree on all issues, but Arctic policy brings them together. Gov. LePage supported expanding Portland’s shipping-container terminal, which included rail access and additional cargo storage space, and is working on building a new cold storage warehouse as well; Sen. King supports these actions.
Rauscher said Maine-based construction company Cianbro is holding exploratory meetings with Greenland to help build infrastructure for resource development. Cianbro is also working on more port infrastructure and roads to mines on the eastern seaboard, many in partnership with neighboring Canadian provinces.
One connection with Alaska is the Portland-based Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC). The RivGen Power System, a self-deploying submersible hydrokinetic 25 kilowatt system designed for rivers in depths of 15 feet or more, was tested last year in the Kvichak River near Igiugig. This power system could be especially useful to remote, off-grid communities in Alaska. Since 2011, ORPC has been working with the Homer Electric Association to begin the pilot Cook Inlet Tidal Energy Project near Nikiski.
For more details about Maine’s activities as the “assistant Arctic state,” read this story from the Portland Press Herald.
NSG asked about Maine’s evolving commercial fisheries. Rauscher said the lobster population is at an all-time high because of optimum conditions. As water temperatures continue to rise, however, lobsters will move further north away from Maine. Lobsters have already disappeared from Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York waters. Rauscher said the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than over 99 percent of the rest of the world’s oceans.
NSG asked about icebreaker leasing. As reported in the 2nd Edition of the Arctic Report, Adm. Paul Zukunft, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, testified before Congress in March that leasing icebreakers would require the Coast Guard to pay up front on the lease, which makes the vessel just as expensive as building a new icebreaker. Rauscher said the Congressional Budget Office is obligated to score such a proposal in this way and that it may be changeable through legislation.
On the status of the Arctic Caucus, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) have joined Sen. King and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-A) as members, but no events have been scheduled yet.
Rauscher said the Senators want to have an active caucus, not just “notional.” Events will include briefings for members and staff to expand awareness about how the Arctic brings business opportunities to individual states. Rauscher said some unspecified Senate offices accused the Arctic Caucus chairs of “profiteering” from climate change, but, as Alaskans also know, development will happen regardless of U.S. activity.
Rauscher said Sen. King will travel with Sen. Murkowski and Secretary of State John Kerry to Iqaluit in Canada for the Arctic Council ministerial meeting.
April 20, 2015 – Washington, DC